Scholarship to launch in memory of Edinburg North HS band director

Photo above: Chad Dempsey stands in a sunflower field outside of Alice, Texas, on July 24, 2022. Courtesy of the Dempsey family.

By Maria Ruiz, May 24, 2024

Edinburg TX – A band scholarship for Edinburg North High School will launch this week to provide funds to four graduating seniors this spring.

The Chad Dempsey Inspire Memorial Foundation, founded by Sonia Sepulveda-Dempsey, is an act of giving back to students who share the same musical passion and impact her husband had.

“Part of this scholarship is about giving back and then paying it forward. Which, hopefully, these kids can do later on for others,” Sonia said. “People that know Chad, they know it was about making people feel good and paying it forward.”

Chad Joseph Dempsey, 48, was the Edinburg North High School Mighty Cougar Band Director since 2007, having started with the school district in 2000. Chad led the high school marching band with vigor until he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma on July 2, 2022.

While Chad wasn’t dedicating his time to band, he did music consulting and drill design across the Valley and the country with D’Zine & Consulting and worked with the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA). 

He also contributed an article in the TMEA Southwestern Musician magazine, and created the “HEY, BAND!” Network, a platform for band directors to come together in support of band programs and their students during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Chad Dempsey Inspire Memorial Foundation, a manifested legacy from Chad’s wife and friends, holds roots in the last 20 months of his life journey and fight against aggressive brain cancer. 

Photo above: A poster with Dempsey’s quote and student notes on sunflowers sits in the 100s hallway inside Edinburg North High School. Courtesy of the Dempsey family.

When word spread about his diagnosis in 2022, Chad worked to meet with his band students to directly tell them about his cancer, prioritizing his role as an educator.

In the Southwestern Musician magazine, published in April 2023, Chad recalled meeting with the Mighty Cougar Band at band camp.

“The band hall was filled with new faces (freshman), familiar voices, and the smell of sunblock. We laughed and we cried, and students showed resilience in their understanding of what was happening,” Chad wrote. “Knowing that this marching season would be like no other, I promised them I would fight this battle and that it would not stop me from inspiring everyone in my path, and I encouraged them to do the same.”

In the article, the band director emphasized the word inspire, typing it in italics. The word became his one-word mantra after his diagnosis and kept Chad grounded for the hope of a tomorrow.

“I am supposed to have this cancer and use it to inspire everyone around me,” Chad wrote.

In fall 2022, at 6 a.m., Chad and Sonia drove to San Antonio daily for a 5-minute treatment and returned home so the band director could teach that same day. At times, Chad drove back down to Edinburg, determined to continue teaching – a form of healing for him.

“While everyone’s journey is unique, for me, returning to the classroom was crucial in my battle with cancer,” Chad wrote. “While surgery and chemo-radiation were the first steps, music and teaching continue to heal me now, nine months since my diagnosis.”

Sonia said that music was the biggest form of therapy Chad had during his fight and that it pushed him far each day, giving him what she called a “supernatural power, despite it all.”

“He was receiving chemo, radiation, but man, something about his music therapy,” Sonia said. “I was so happy he had this and his music, his students that gave him that drive to keep going and fight with all his might.”

Although the scholarship was planted as a seed in Sonia’s mind while Chad fought his cancer, she could never bring herself to share the idea with him.

“It was hard to talk about anything. I couldn’t,” Sonia said with teary eyes. “Talking about it meant he was gone.”

Sonia said that although Chad left no wishes, she knew that this was something he would have wanted — for his inspiration to transcend his absence and continue to leave a mark on future musicians.

“He didn’t [know], but I knew he would want me to,” she said.

After Chad was laid to rest on May 6 at Hillcrest Memorial Park, his family visited the halls of Edinburg North High School, amazed at the tributes that lined the high school’s hallways. 

A handmade poster covering a row of lockers in a hallway was adorned with sunflowers on green paper grass with personal notes written by students Chad taught. The band director’s signature quote in black cursive on a paper blue sky said:

“You are only allowed to be positive and speak to people in a beautiful and meaningful way.”

-Chad Dempsey

Student notes thanked the late band director for his work and dedication, while others expressed their condolences and memories.

To Sonia, this tribute proved that creating a scholarship was the right choice.

“He loved all kids that were in fine arts, all across the Rio Grande Valley, all across Texas,” Sonia said. “He was such a big marching band person through his drum corps years – high school drum corps years – and then his profession after that, studying music education.”

Sonia stated that the scholarship will not be merit-based but will focus on musical passion, talent, and community impact, overlooking rank and GPA in the process.

“We’re looking for kids that have that passion of inspiring and motivating, which is what Chad – his last 20 months – was his life, his passion, more than probably music,” Sonia said.

As of last Saturday, the foundation has raised $2K, able to offer a minimal $500 in scholarship money to four students, one from each Edinburg high school. 

“As of now, we have $500 each for four schools,” said Sonia, who said a QR code for donations via CashApp was launched the day of Chad’s funeral. “It’s not going to go towards tuition where it has to go directly to the institute. They will be receiving a check.”

While fundraising events, such as a 5K are in the planning stages, donations are still encouraged to provide more extensive scholarships to future students. 

The Foundation’s Board of Directors, seven of Chad’s friends, colleagues, former students, and family, familiar with marching band, will meet to choose this year’s scholars in June.

The Foundation plans to announce the scholars at the school band camp kick-offs in July and is in the works of organizing the event with local band directors.

Sonia said that she hopes to take on the Foundation as a full-time project whenever she chooses to retire.

“This will be a big project,” said Sonia. “We’d like to do it every year for kids to, you know, the future kids that are going through programs here in Edinburg.”